My Five Favourite LoFi Releases
by Piers Mason.......
Damn I knew someone would ask. What is lofi? Well it's a bit tricky,
it's sort of like saying what is Grunge or what is Jungle/Drum & Bass.
I don't think bands like to be pigeon holed in a category but it's
necessary so that everyone knows what's being talked about except
perhaps in the case of lofi because it rarely makes the main stream.
So, and this is only my opinion, lofi is as wide ranging in style and
content as any other music genre. There do however seem to be some
consistent themes that run through. I've tried to list them below :
1. Music recorded by lofi means. e.g I write music and record to 4
track. The results are usually of low quality not just due to the fact
it's all done in my bedroom but because I'm terrible. But you get the
idea. Much of Erics Trips' early stuff was done on 4 track as was
loads of Smog.
2. The music often has odd instrumentation and arrangement often
sounding terrible to a music purist. Try some Polvo to get the idea.
3. The melody is often much more important than the music behind it.
Classic pop tunes striking through odd and quirky instrumentation.
Listen to some early Guided by Voices to get the idea. Mostly
though it's just something different, out of the ordinary. Many
describe it as underground but that's a word I shy away from because
it seems to insinuate that once the music is popular it is therefore
no longer underground. This is not the case with lofi. The record
either has that feeling or it doesn't. Lofi is music that because it
boarders on experimental, is low budget and gets limited distribution
often shines with invention and feeling because nothing's been removed
by excessive production and studio work. e.g. Guided by Voices have
sort of hit the big time in lofi circles. Their last album Under the
Bushes Under the Stars was recorded in a studio on, wait for it, 16
tracks. They hated it and scrapped a whole albums worth of material
saying in interviews it drained the feel of the record. If you are
interested listen to Bee Thousand and the newest album by them. You'll
hear exactly what I mean.
The only real way to find out is to go out and listen to some records
and to make your deliberations really easy here are my five favourite
lofi releases. I'm sure many will say "that's not lofi" when looking
at the list but as I've said above saying lofi is a bit like saying
heavy metal, the genre is really wide and the list below reflects
These are in no particular order except the top favourite as it was so
easy to pick.
"Bee Thousand" Guided by Voices - Matador OLE084-2
This was an easy choice. For me it encompasses what lofi is all about,
unorthodox instrumentation and beautiful melodies creating seamless
pop songs. In 20 tracks the Pollard brothers with the able help of
Tobin Sprout do nothing that could be considered as new but what it
does sound is fresh. It is a rework of all that is classic about a two
minute pop gem. It sounds very English in the same way as Pink Floyd
sum up their country of origin - except GBV don't, they are American.
The verse, verse, chorus, with added infectious melody is all off set
by a low production value and uneasy instrumentation that sounds
crisp, new and exciting. It is an album that never fails to take me
away to another plain of enjoyment bordering on religious. I can
recommend this to anyone setting out on a journey of a lofi kind.
"The Madcap Laughs" Syd Barrett - EMI
Some say the inventor of lofi. He certainly knew how to use odd
instrumentation to get across pop tunes containing strange subject
matter. The production on some tracks may be studio quality but the
ethos behind the writing has always struck me as being distinctly
lofi. It's that "I've an idea for a song, here are some lyrics, let's
get it down on record" attitude. And what's important is that the
songs come across so well. There may just be acoustic guitar and then
Syd coming across with lazy singing and often even lazier lyrics but
it all works and at the same time covers a multitude of styles. This
album sounds in places like it has been influenced by any number of
lofi bands of today, except that it was released in 1969, and for this
reason alone it makes important listening.
"Celebrate the New Dark Age" Polvo - Touch & Go
Where do you start. Polvo have a style all their own. The songs sweep
along like movie soundtracks condensed into the space of a few
minutes. They swing from fearful discord to strong melody intertwined
with subtle passages. "A uniqueness of completeness" is a line from
the opening track and sums this record up quite well. It is an album
that is so complete you feel you can touch the musicians and so unique
you can feel safe in the knowledge that once you have mastered its
strangeness it will never loose its grip. As lofi goes never has the
musical rule book been so comprehensively burned. The first reaction
from people when confronted by this record is how can Polvo disregard
thousands of years of musical law. Well all I can say is you can,
they have and the result is fabulous.
"Mother of All Saints" Thinking Fellows Union Local 282 - Matador
TFUL282 have been around for years quietly producing album after album
of superb music. Easily accessible it is not but you cannot help but
listen in wonder at the invention. It moves from ear shattering
industrial guitar mania to subtle melody in an instant. This is a band
that refuses convention in every department. The rhythm section forms
the back bone of many songs with the ability to cascade from widely
different musical styles and beats in a matter of seconds. Add to that
vocals which either saunter or squeal like savaged dogs and you have a
record that delivers new layers with each subsequent listen. TFUL282
have a sense of humour and that is often an important part of lofi so
pick a ray of sun and let this unique group take you away somewhere.
No. 5 "Silent '88" Hood - Slumberland Records I hesitate at including
this record. It's the only release by Hood I've heard but it is really
good, in fact very good. The 26 tracks are packed with quality tunes.
It's like a journey through lofi. From pop melodies to extreme noise
with experimental undertones this record encompasses all that lofi
represents - "music because". It shifts from keyboards to samples to
guitar to crashing percussion in the blink of an eye. One soundscape
forms only to move on quickly to another and all without effort. It is
an album for all moments filled with joy and hurt in equal amounts. It
really is very special.
Piers' LO-FI Special site can be found at http://www.cix.co.uk/~lo-fi/